July’s meetings took three days. We handled issues associated with the pandemic as well as more traditional items.
WETA & Shirlington
The County Board continues to take up some of the typical land use issues. We approved WETA’s expansion plan and renewed their incentive grant to keep
our public broadcasting station in its longtime home of Shirlington. I’m delighted. While our agreement with WETA was supported by just about everyone, the item of amendments to our General Land Use Plan (GLUP) zoning for Shirlington divided many people. This was understandable. We discussed questions such as: How much density and height should be allowed? How can we provide certainty and stability for planning, yet maintain flexibility for creativity? The Board decided to allow for some added height and flexibility so creative designs for individual buildings and site plans can be considered. However, there are limits and our goal is to keep Shirlington the attractive area that it has become.
Reduced Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
Our traditional CIP is a ten-year, long-term planning document with a shorter implementation plan. We review the CIP every two years. After adoption, we ask voters to approve the bonds necessary to implement the plan and finance large capital expenses such as new and improved schools; water, sewer and street systems; as well as parks. With a very uncertain economic future, the Manager realized that much long-term planning and new big projects would be unwise. Therefore, this year’s CIP has no new projects except for stormwater infrastructure to improve our ability to mitigate the increasingly frequent large rain events climate change brings, and investments to start our police body-worn camera system. We will complete already begun and paid for projects like Lubber Run Community Center and Longbridge Aquatics Center, but we do not plan to open them at least while we remain in Phase 3. We will cover our obligations such as Metro funding. Next year, we will revisit the CIP and hope to return to a more traditional one in 2022.
The Board decided to take advantage of the Virginia General Assembly finally allowing localities to forbid firearms on public property or at public events. We have advertised a new Arlington ordinance, will hold a public hearing on it, and will consider approving the ordinance during our September meeting. At our
July meeting, we heard from those with permits to carry concealed weapons who were concerned that since they wear guns like clothes, they could easily find themselves in our parks with a gun unintentionally. They essentially feared entrapment. We have no intention of entrapping anyone and will be looking at procedures to prevent that. While gun owners are passionate about their rights, I continue to believe that most people in Arlington would prefer that public safety be provided in our facilities by trained officers who work for the County. While we hear stories of how guns save lives, statistics show that more guns do not make more people safe. They simply lead to more accidental deaths, injuries and suicides. That said, I appreciate the time a number of conceal carry permit holders have taken to share their perspectives and concerns about safety particularly in parks. They have made good points to consider.
The Fall, Schools and Childcare
The Board voted to accept Federal and state funds for Covid relief and are grateful to have them. We have spent several million since March just on providing food and rental assistance to families in Arlington. I support the Superintendent’s decision to open schools a little later this year and to do so virtually at first. This is, however, devastating for many of our families who cannot work if their children are not in school or childcare and for all the students who will fall behind in their learning even when working virtually. The County has committed to provide internet service to all families and teachers who need it, but providing that service has proven quite difficult. The MiFi devices given to students simply do not have the quality needed for remote learning. The “Comcast Essentials” program is proving to be slow to connect families and often not very good quality for learning when connected. We are working hard toward a solution that will work well for everyone. Among the many workers needing childcare are many of our teachers. We are working closely with APS to support them in providing the childcare they need. Our own essential workers, such as first responders, also need childcare. We are working with private providers, APS and others to try to figure out this problem. It is perhaps the toughest one we face.
Following recent events involving policing and racial injustice across the United States, the Board has asked the Manager to lead a review of police policies and practices.
I’m so pleased we officially began this process last week and look forward to being a part of this important effort. The review will be led by two external experts and will be shared with a 15-member citizen group that will report back to us. It will ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and is continuing to build trust between our police and the community.
Finally, as numbers of Covid cases begin to tick up generally, I think it is quite possible that we, like so many other places, will need to do more to enforce good public health protocols like distancing and face coverings. Personally, I am staying in Phase 2 as much as possible and continue to avoid gatherings, stay distanced and wear a face covering. I hope all my readers will, too.
As always, I welcome comments and reactions.
Stay well and stay cool,
P.S. This Friday, I will be on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show. If you tune in to the 12:30 – 1:00 pm segment of the “Politics Hour,” you should be able to hear about Arlington issues.